Design Star rebounds, improves on its earlier self after its terrible fifth season

Design Star rebounded this season, its sixth season, thanks to no-brainer changes to the show’s structure, better challenges, and the addition of season-one winner David Bromstad as the contestants’ mentor.

After the series fired the producer who created it, Mark Burnett and his team came in and, surprisingly, wrecked it. But HGTV smartly brought in the production team behind its sibling network’s series Food Network Star, and the new producers immediately fixed the show’s biggest problem, which was not letting viewers hear the judges’ criticism and praise of the designers’ work. Now, we get to hear critiques and the pros and cons associated with each designer’s work. Amazing!

They also cast more engaging designers; brought back more innovative challenges (last season’s seemed the same week after week, and used way too many team challenges to manufacture drama); and smartly integrated the camera challenges, which were led by David Bromstad. I particularly loved the tiny house challenge, which really tested the designers’ innovation and creativity.

The new host, Tanika Ray, has been a so-so host: not great, not awful. I wish the show would bring back Clive Pearse, because he’d add the dose of life it desperately needs. This judging panel, while they are significantly better than they were last year, still lacks warmth, especially compared to Bob and Susie on Next Food Network Star, the most comparable show. Vern Yip has been less of a dick this year, and Genevieve Gorder does her thing. Candice Olson was only around part of the season, and the guests that stood in for her were hit (Paula Deen, Nate Berkus) or miss (the Novogratzs, Dina Manzo), perhaps because they seemed to be chosen just to promote other HGTV shows.

As to the actual winner, Meg Casewell, I wasn’t overly thrilled with that choice, because I went into the finale thinking it was Karl Sponholtz’s to lose. But his final design wasn’t very inspired and not at all his best work, while her room looked great, and she had a better hook for a show. I’d be he ends up on TV anyway. Still, neither of the final two were really inspirational to watch, as reality show contestants or TV personalities, and that kind of pulled the series down in its final episodes. There was no reason to be passionate about either of them, really.

Overall, the show isn’t perfect, but it’s significantly better and very watchable. And for a show to course-correct this well this late in its life is pretty awesome. I look forward to seeing what the team does next year.

Design Star: B

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